The holidays bring families together. Most of us have fond memories of listening to our grandparents, aunts, and uncles reminiscing about their childhood, sharing tales from long ago. These shared memories strengthen family bonds while passing down a shared past and wisdom to the next generation. Your grandparents or other older relatives may or may not have shared the stories of their own history with you. Either way, putting together a family anthology telling the stories of your family can be a wonderful and lasting gift that will become a cherished heirloom.
Getting Started on a Family Anthology
The most challenging part is getting started. Perhaps you’ve never thought of yourself as a writer. If this makes you nervous, think of yourself as a family historian instead. The stories are already there, but you need to collect them and put them together in a coherent family anthology that makes sense to readers.
You’ll also need the cooperation of your loved ones. You may have one grandparent who is very talkative and loves to relate anecdotes from his past. In contrast, another grandparent may be reticent about her story. Coaxing those stories out can be both frustrating and rewarding. Talk to older family members early on, explaining that you don’t want their stories to be lost to the next generation and asking them to share with you. Assure them you aren’t looking for gossip, but those memories that profoundly impacted their lives.
Record the Stories
When your family gathers for the holidays, it’s easy to use the recording app on your cell phone to record the stories for later. With permission, you may also want to do a video of individuals relating their stories. Later, listen and transcribe these tales for your family anthology. As you write, jot down any questions you may have so you can ask people later. If you prefer, some apps will transcribe audio files, such as rev.com, Temi.com, and others.
Nail Down the Timeline
A collection of stories is a start but take the time to craft a timeline to help you put together a coherent family anthology. Make sure you understand the sequence of events. Telling stories in the wrong order is confusing. It doesn’t really tell the story of your family over decades and generations. There is a cause and effect that needs to be maintained.
Ask “Why?” and “How?”
When your great-aunt tells you she opened a hardware store during the Great Depression, ask her why. The motivations and reasons behind why your family did what they did and where they did it are compelling elements of a family anthology. Understanding how your family became what it is today is essential to capturing the interest of your descendants once the writing is done.
There’s no better time than the holidays to break out photo albums or pour over old, framed pictures with your relatives. These often trigger memories. Ask your loved ones who are in the picture when it was taken and what the occasion was; you may hear an entirely new story that had long been forgotten. Discussing music from their era and asking about heirlooms they treasure may also spark new tales. At the holidays, ask everyone what their favorite Christmas or Hanukkah memory is and why they loved that holiday the most.
Create Your Family Anthology
Once you have the materials you need, start putting them together. Along the way, ask your family members to clarify stories and check with multiple loved ones to see if their recollections of the past all match or come from very different perspectives. Once you have it down on paper, be sure to ask your grandparents and others to read it and give you honest feedback.
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